As you might imagine, I’m an enthusiastic supporter of the idea of writers making money. That’s why this Gawker post, “When Writers Write for Free, Who Pays?” caught my attention (even though, I will confess, the post didn’t sustain it; I found it far too easy to skip paragraphs on my flight to its conclusion).
Yes, I feel genuine sympathy for young writers — or people with writing ambitious who are not quite young anymore — and I can empathize with the pain of their struggles and the temptations to write for free, for exposure.
But there’s an ugly truth this whole kerfuffle seems to overlook: as in any glamorous industry (like fashion, theater, film, art, publishing, etc.) there’s a glut of would-be talent and an under-supply of appealing opportunities. As a consequence, the opportunities are dear, while talent comes cheap: for those willing to exploit this market reality, finding willing creators who’ll work for nothing or virtually nothing is easy. Want cheap talent? Swing your elbows on any Manhattan street corner.
Part two of the ugly truth: there is money to be made in writing, but it’s not in the kind of writing most people find attractive. It’s not what Kerouac hit the road for, not the stuff of literary daydreams; it’s what I do, commercial writing. Creating “content.” Writing web pages, emails and brochures. Ghosting articles and white papers. Making ads and direct marketing mailers.
It an’t sexy, but the work I produce and the money I’m paid for that work is real. Hence ugly truth number three: if you want to make money writing, make writing that makes money.
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